While it may be a cliché to talk about young people being the future, there’s no denying that without great training, education and job opportunities for young people the world – and in particular the UK – will quickly become a shadow of its former self.
Youth unemployment is currently soaring, and unemployment figures for 16 to 24-year-olds recently hit the one million mark, so it’s no surprise that young people are now looking at more options before deciding what to do when they leave school.
On top of that, while many school and college leavers would previously have seen university as the natural next step, with costly tuition fees that prospect doesn’t appeal so much now, so they are exploring every alternative option.
The good news in all of this is that the Government has been forced to come up with new ways of encouraging employers to recruit.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg recently chose Leeds College of Building as the venue to unveil a £1bn Youth Contract scheme to tackle the surge in youth unemployment.
The scheme is designed to get 500,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 into training, work experience or apprenticeships and will pay employers £2,275 towards the wages of each young person they recruit.
In total, 160,000 places will be available and the money will also pay for 250,000 work experience placements.
There’s no doubt these plans sound positive.
We support any moves that encourage and promote job creation and work experience.
As increasing numbers of new and existing students say they no longer plan to go to university these types of schemes are vitally important for the future of young people.
As the UK’s only specialist construction college, we’re delighted that the deputy prime minister chose to make this announcement here and also took time to have breakfast with some of the region’s leading employers in the construction industry.
His visit follows that of The Duke of Gloucester who visited earlier in the month.
He had requested a tour of the college having read about our students’ successes at numerous skills competitions both in the UK and on an international level.
As well as proving to be a major PR coup for Leeds College of Building, both these visits are good for the region and its construction industry as a whole because they convey the message that Yorkshire is a key player in the construction industry.
The fact that Nick Clegg sat down with employers in the region gave the industry a fantastic platform to voice its opinions at the highest level.
In order for Yorkshire to maintain this reputation and increase its competitiveness, employers and education providers have to work together in order to ensure the best possible young people are entering the industry.
For Leeds College of Building this means looking carefully at everything we do and asking ourselves what else we can offer.
There’s plenty of demand for work-based learning at a higher level that offers a viable alternative to full-time university study, so this is an area that we’re focusing heavily on.
We’re now looking at how we can create a route through to higher education and degree level across every apprenticeship model that we run for students who want the opportunity to go further. We’re also expanding the number of apprenticeships that we offer and working with industry trade bodies and organisations such as the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC).
As a result apprentices can now achieve HNDs, first degrees and honours degrees.
Leeds College of Building is also the only college in Yorkshire – and just one of six in the whole of the UK – that has been selected to receive Government funding for 19,000 new higher apprenticeships. Business secretary Vince Cable announced that £18.7m from the Higher Apprenticeship Fund (HAF) will be used to pay for degree equivalent apprenticeships in sectors including advanced engineering and construction.
Some might question whether we can offer the same standard of education as a university but we are confident that we can match the quality. In a recent integrated quality and enhancement review (IQER) – the equivalent of an Ofsted inspection for higher education providers – we were given full marks in nearly every area.
So there’s no doubt our quality is just as good, if not better, than a lot of universities.
In addition we can also deliver better value for money. The latest figures show that, nationally, apprentices who are 19 years old and over generate £40 for each £1 of Government investment.
Yes, the construction industry may have been hit hard by the recession, but the industry still offers great job prospects. Although tales about plumbers earning six-figure salaries may be in the past, it’s likely that when the economy picks up we will once again experience a skills shortage. The industry still accounts for almost 10% of UK GDP, employs around two million people, and has to recruit around 44,000 new entrants every year. There are also some big growth areas such as the renewables and sustainable market as well as in their infrastructure. We work with lots of employers in these areas who are actively recruiting people with the right qualifications.
In addition, 50% spend in the construction industry is on repair and maintenance, so this requirement is always there regardless of other external factors. There’s no doubt that a lot is riding on the upturn of the economy, but at least if we offer the best possible training – training that is on an equal footing with academic study – then our students have a great chance of enjoying long and successful careers. Ian Billyard is principal of Leeds College of Building.